JUST THE FACTS:*
12.5% of corporate officers are women.
4.1% of top earners are women.
6.2% of top managers are women (chairman, vice chairman, CEO, president,
chief operating officer, senior executive vice president, executive vice
president); 154 women versus 2,488 men.
7.3% of "line"-revenue-generating-positions are held by women.
*2000 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners (New
York: Catalyst, 2000).
I'd like to be able to tell you that the glass ceiling has cracked and
fallen in shards on the floors of executive suites everywhere. Like you,
I've noted in the national media something of a "been there, done that"
attitude about women's advancement in business, government, the
professions, and academia. Every time one woman makes it, whenever there's
any good news on the gender front, there are those who rush to believe the
A 1999 lead editorial in The New York Times noted, "There is still
institutional resistance to women at some companies. Until recently, few
companies have had women in senior posts who could serve as role models and
mentors for younger women."1 If you look even closer at Fortune 500
companies, you find that women hold slightly more than 6 percent of the
most senior executive positions (chair, vice chair, CEO, president, COO,
SEVP, EVP) and occupy slightly over 11 percent of Fortune 500 corporate
board seats; 1.9 percent of board directors and 1.4 percent of corporate
officers are women of color. Check the masthead on the stationery at most
law firms, management consulting firms, or securities firms, and you'll
note few women partners.
A small number of women have reached positions of real authority in their
organizations. These pioneers serve as role models, as heroes for striving
executive women. I'm encouraged by the giant strides some women have made,
but primogeniture prevails in business. Mostly, men in the top jobs
continue to choose other men to succeed them. The invisible biases that
keep women out of the top jobs-first dubbed the "glass ceiling" by The Wall
Street Journal in 1987-are present in all areas of the work world. Yes,
increasingly, there are panes that show a crack where women have slipped
through. But in all too many organizations, the broken glass is replaced
pronto. We need more deferred maintenance in the glass ceiling department.
Women in our groundbreaking survey Women in Corporate Leadership* had
reached senior management positions in several areas-human resources,
public relations, finance, information management-yet the majority told
Catalyst they often felt like outsiders, subject to stereotypes and
excluded from the informal networks that operate in corporations. As they
were coming up in the corporation, they couldn't do business over lunch or
dinner at the clubs that remained male bastions throughout the sixties and
seventies. Nor could they swing a club at 8 a.m. on the golf links with the
COO, who might pass along a golf buddy's name to the CEO as candidate for
managing an overseas operation (women weren't allowed to tee off until
after noon at most country clubs where senior executives played golf).*
Things are getting better, but if we aren't at TGIF with the guys, we miss
both the grape and the grapevine about the exciting opening in marketing.
And we sure miss what's going down in the men's room. Worse, sometimes we
don't know what we're missing or even that we are missing anything at all.
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE WORKPLACE
As your mentor, I want to give the facts to you straight: Lots of us have
been missing out. The level playing field is too often a myth. These days,
women and men may start out at the same level, but a gap seems to open up
between them as their careers develop. Women's experience in the work world
is inevitably different from men's-something that is not very pleasant to
hear. But take it from me, you can either delude yourself with false hopes
or face reality and learn how to deal with it. It's hard to do both. The
misconceptions that follow are all variations on a theme, but if you read
each one, you may finally "get it."
Workplace Misconception 1: It won't matter that
I'm a woman.
Fact: The question is not what's legal or what's right; it's a fact of
life: gender by and large determines career experiences. Being female
simply is different. How far you get, the jobs you land, the kinds of
opportunities you're offered, the salary you receive . . . all of these
will probably be different for you as a woman than they are for your male
In 1962, when Catalyst was founded, it was widely believed that by the year
2000, gender would be inconsequential in the workplace. The 1990s showed
otherwise. Catalyst's annual accounting of women board members, corporate
officers, and top earners, along with our surveys of high-level corporate
women and of chief executives in the Fortune 500, documents the existence
of a glass ceiling, why it continues, and how entrenched it is. Outside the
private sector, in nonprofits, institutions, and academia, women often find
the same situation.
Among the small number of women who have made it to the highest tier of
management, I occasionally hear one say that being a woman hasn't affected
her progress. I smile and think that this accomplished, title-holding
pioneer woman is terribly lucky and, for sure, most unusual. For every one
of these fortunate women, hundreds say the opposite. Being a woman does
matter. Only two women serve as chief executives of Fortune 500 companies
(still not even one percent), with six more in the Fortune 501-1000. Men
make up 93.2 percent of top management in America's leading corporations.
Women in Corporate Leadership included interviews of Fortune 1000 chief
executives and of high-ranking women in their companies. The CEOs'
responses to questions about women's progress revealed a lack of awareness
of the glass ceiling and its causes. The women, though, saw it all too
clearly. The women's ceiling is the CEO's carpeted floor. The survey asked,
"What holds women back from the highest ranks?" Chief executives answered
that women "lack line management [revenue-generating] experience" and
"haven't been in the pipeline long enough." The women in the survey agreed
that a lack of line experience did hold them back. But instead of listing
this first, as the CEOs did, they listed it third. The top reasons they
listed reveal why they lack that essential line experience.
The biggest barriers to women's advancement, women said, include being
stereotyped by their male managers and being excluded from informal
networks. It's the factors that are indiscernible to the chief
executives-but glaringly obvious to women-that keep us from being assigned
to key jobs and gaining the experience we need to advance. What gets in
women's way are the unrecognized biases about abilities, commitment,
availability, flexibility, assertiveness. And it's also about not having
the right connections. Women of color especially stress that being
outsiders is a key reason for their lack of progress.
The discrepancy between the chief executives' perspective and that of the
most successful women at their companies exposes the extent of the problem.
In fact, women were more than twice as likely as CEOs to consider factors
in the culture of the job itself as barriers to advancement. The men at the
top rarely see this; it hasn't been part of their experience. CEOs were
more than twice as likely as the women to fault "time in the pipeline,"
meaning they think it's only a matter of time before women catch up. The
women know from their own years of experience that time hasn't dislodged
the barriers so far.
Although our study included corporate women only, all the research in other
fields, such as academia and the nonprofit world (and I've read just about
everything), strongly suggests that the situation is the same everywhere.
From the Pioneers: Bias is an everyday reality.
Patricia "Tosh" Barron (Clinical Associate Professor, Stern School of
Business, New York University), whose successful managerial career at Xerox
proved that women can succeed in positions previously held by men, says,
"You're always, consciously or unconsciously, under a microscope as a
woman. There's still the feeling that to really advance, you've got to be
better than the men. Your challenge is to communicate how you're up to the
Judith Rodin (President, University of Pennsylvania, and first woman
president of an Ivy League institution): "Clearly, there's still a glass
ceiling in academia, although not in department chairmen so much as there
used to be. Women leaders are still unusual in medicine, an area just
beginning to be broken into."
I do see more and more organizations recognizing that their policies and
practices hinder or exclude women, and they are starting to make important
changes. Some are doing it because of legal pressure, some because it's
right, and others because it's good business. Even though you'll certainly
be better off working at one of these places (see Chapter 2 for how to find
them), you'll still need to know what challenges you'll face-and what to do
about them. The workplace is experiencing a slow evolution, not a
revolution, toward gender blindness, and we have a long way to go.
Why? Because men designed the workplace, and they designed it to fit their
own needs. That's only to be expected, and for a long time it worked well.
It doesn't work as well, however, for the millions of women who have flowed
into the workforce since the 1960s (and, by extension, since many men are
deeply connected with those women, it's not working as well now for men
either). Over and over, women of ambition, talent, and commitment have run
into barriers that are apparently invisible to many men.
Although these barriers often result from unintended and unexamined
assumptions by men about women, that doesn't make them any easier to
circumvent. Maybe men didn't aim to keep women out when they set up the
ways of doing business. I think the majority don't mean to exclude us now.
But until women play a major role in revamping the business culture, we
simply have to learn to contend with rules we did not make and that don't
always make sense for us.
Workplace Misconception 2: Sure, there's a mythology about women, but it
doesn't affect real women; it won't affect me.
Fact: No matter how competent, strong, talented, or smart you are, the
myths about women can cloud your future when you least expect it. These
myths can lurk anywhere-at law firms, accounting firms, management
consulting firms, and banks, in corporations large and small, at
not-for-profits in all shapes and sizes, in government agencies, and in
academia. You cannot hide from others' preconceptions, but you can debunk
them with reality.
Here are some common myths about women in the workplace:
— Women are less committed to their jobs than men are.
— Women can't or won't put in the hours that are required to get the job done.
— Women are not qualified or prepared for the job.
— Women are not aggressive enough.
— Women don't take risks.
— Women become pregnant and then stay home.
— Women won't relocate or can't travel for work.
— Women aren't rainmakers.
— Women don't need to work, because men support them.
On what are these myths founded? Some on fear and some on truth. Yes, it is
true that women become pregnant, but not all of us and not for long. (And
frankly, I never felt healthier than during my two pregnancies.) As one
high-level woman put it to an appalled boss who did not want to lose her,
"I'm not going to be pregnant forever." It is true that most new mothers
want to take maternity leave, but most of them resume work as fully
committed as ever; in 1995, 83 percent returned within six months after
It's true that some women don't want to relocate for personal or family
reasons. But I know great numbers of women who gladly move for their work.
Male managers often don't know this. If you sense that you're being denied
opportunities simply because you're a woman, it's up to you to change
things. Here's what you can do:
1.Bring up the subject.
2.Make it clear that you as an individual are open to relocation,
travel, risks . . . whatever it takes to rise.
3.If nothing changes after a decent interval, remind your manager again.
4.If there's still no change, consider looking for a new job.
What I consider the most pernicious myth is that when women leave jobs,
they go home to stay. Whenever I talk with the media, I try to quash this
myth. How many women do you know who can afford such a luxury? The numbers
from Catalyst's studies and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics make it
clear that women are in the workplace to stay.* When women leave an
organization, it's often because they've hit impenetrable barriers. Many
leave to start their own businesses, which women are doing at twice the
rate of men.3 Or they resurface at other organizations that have already
tackled some of these issues and have implemented changes that afford an
environment conducive to the retention and advancement of women.* If you
are fortunate enough to find such an organization early in your work life,
your career progress may match your expectations.
Workplace Misconception 3: As soon as I prove myself, they'll forget the
Fact: Senior managers are still mostly men, and many male managers who
haven't worked with many women tend to make generalizations about them.? If
their wives don't work, they may think it's weird that you want to. If the
women they know aren't assertive, they may doubt, for instance, whether any
woman can nail down a new account. If they've lost one woman to maternity
leave, they'll expect all other women to follow suit. If you have children,
they may even suspect that you can't be a good mother if you're working.
Obviously, these beliefs can make a manager deal differently with a woman
than with a man. He might not offer a married woman an assignment that
requires relocation, especially a woman with children, because he assumes
she won't want (or be able) to move her family. Or he might assign a
lucrative sales territory to a man with a macho style rather than to a
service-oriented woman, even though her numbers show her style works.
At most organizations, managers deciding who gets an assignment naturally
choose someone they know and trust. If they hang out at lunch or after work
or on the golf course with the guys who work for them, it's these faces
they'll think of when opportunities arise. The informal methods many
organizations still use to decide who gets an assignment or a promotion
leave a lot of room for ingrained bias. Some organizations do use job
competencies and formal review processes, and some trend-setting
professional firms review how assignments are made, but such methods are
far from universal.
Excerpted from Be Your Own Mentor by Sheila Wellington and Catalyst. . Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.